GLENDALE, Ariz. -- With all due respect to a deserving Eli Manning, the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XLII was actually a coach.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo came to New York from the Eagles with a fire-zone scheme that asked the Giants players to attack the offense. It was a breath of fresh air for a bunch of very good athletes who were playing a non-aggressive package before his arrival. It's a very difficult defense to install -- it requires a lot of timing, a lot of precision, a lot of technique.
The Giants struggled with it early in the year, giving up 80 points in the first two games. Michael Strahan had not been at camp. Matthias Kiwanuka, the lynchpin of the package, got hurt early, and the team incurred injuries in the secondary. Just like his game plan Sunday night, Spagnuolo never turned back, never wavered, never got conservative.
When Spagnuolo showed the four-man rush and surprised the Patriots with a blitzer, the blitzer came clean almost every time. When he showed the blitz and dropped players out into coverage, the four-man front took over.
The best example of this was in the first half on a play in which it looked like Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson was going to be open. But defensive end Osi Umenyiora dropped into coverage to take it away. Tom Brady hesitated, and Strahan got the sack.
>> They put Brady on the ground five times (and got another nine hits).
>> Even when there wasn't physical contact, Spagnuolo's defense got Brady off his launch point.
>> What really went unnoticed with the spectacular pass defense was how well the Giants played the run. New England's Laurence Maroney basically was neutralized, along with the rest of the running game. This was accomplished after the Giants made an adjustment after the Patriots' opening drive. The Giants started to move the front to their right side, the Pats' left side. That side had dominated the first possession for New England running the ball, but the next Patriots possession resulted in a three-and-out.
Brought to tears
The Giants' pass rush fizzled in New England's 12-play scoring drive that resulted in the go-ahead touchdown with less than three minutes to play. New York's defenders had to rush Brady 48 times in a warm, indoor stadium. And here's why I know Spagnuolo is on his way to greatness: When the defense came back on the field after the Giants had taken the lead and had to finish off the Patriots one last time, you did not see a conservative approach.
As the Patriots took the field for that last drive with 29 seconds left and Brady with three timeouts, Spagnuolo called a fire blitz! He didn't call a conservative coverage -- like 90 percent of coaches in the NFL would. I was so impressed with the call that I got choked up. That's what coaching is all about. You know what you want to do, and you stick to it -- even in the biggest moment of the game. Especially in the biggest moment of the game.
In my opinion, "Spags," as I like to call him, has taken Jim Johnson's Philadelphia defense to another level. A secondary coach by trade, he got great coverage -- sometimes in risky situations.
But Randy Moss didn't hurt them. Watson, who should have been a matchup nightmare for the Giants, never caught a pass.
In the third quarter, the Patriots adjusted by going to quick, bubble screens -- which was designed to scare the Giants out of their rush. It didn't change anything. The aggressive tackling by the Giants' corners and safeties ended that adjustment quickly. Keep in mind the Pats, the highest-scoring team in NFL history, were held to 14 points -- their lowest output of the season and well below their average.